America’s gayest cities?Feature Story Thursday, January 26th, 2012
The Advocate’s annual top cities list includes some of America’s least LGBT-friendly
“America’s leading gay news [source],” The Advocate, recently released its annual Gayest Cities in America list. To be sure, the staid newsmagazine, which has been and continues to be an informative beacon amid a lightning storm of here-today-gone-tomorrow LGBT media outlets, should be acknowledged. However, The Advocate’s Gayest Cities in America list was meant to be read with tongue somewhat in cheek.
But no list published by a respected, serious source of news and information, at least implying some level of actuality in terms of where an LGBT family or individual might consider planting their roots, should be cast off as mere satire. Indeed, the article written by The Advocate’s editor Matthew Breen, bills its list of cities as “gay-friendly” travel destinations or places for LGBTs to make their residence. Here’s what Breen says about Fort Lauderdale, (No. 4 on its list): “The area is teeming with gay bars and restaurants, and a ton of guesthouses and spas that run the gamut from mild to spicy.” Visit or move to this city, Breen’s story seems to recommend, because it is very LGBT-friendly.
However, West Hollywood is notably missing, as is San Francisco which only made it to its honorable mentions. Its No. 1 city is Salt Lake City, known as a center for fighting against, rather than as a hub for gay rights causes.
Just how could Salt Lake City be the U.S.’ No. 1 LGBT-friendly city? Take a look at the sidebar to this article for the details. Here’s one of The Advocate’s criteria to tide you over until you get there: “Number of nude yoga classes” (huh?).
But what if we measured The Advocate’s top five gayest cities by more legitimate criteria? Would The Advocate’s top five still hold? Using research from the Williams Institute, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Victory Fund, we looked at The Advocate’s top five gayest cities in terms of their number of same-sex couples, state gay rights laws and LGBT elected city officials. We found (when compared to more credible measures) more than half of The Advocate’s top five aren’t very gay friendly cities at all. Using said criteria and based on the most current research, we present what we believe to be the gayest cities currently in the U.S. We begin this analysis by comparing The Advocate’s top five gayest cities to the William’s Institute’s ranking of cities with the most same-sex couples.
The Advocate’s gayest cities
If we look at the highest number of same-sex couples in U.S. cities (according to the Williams Institute’s United States – Census Snapshot 2010), we find The Advocate’s top five rank in the twenties to forties among cities with the most same-sex couples, with the exception of Seattle.
As can be seen, The Advocate’s top four gayest cities are pretty low in terms of total same-sex couples. The Advocate’s No. 1 gayest city, Salt Lake City, falls to No. 32 in number of same-sex couples. Orlando? It’s No.27. Seattle is the only city in The Advocate’s top five ranking that reflects its actual number of same-sex couples.
If we look at The Advocate’s top five in terms of their states record on gay rights legislation, specifically looking at whether they passed legislation covering same-sex marriage, employment discrimination, hate crimes based on sexual orientation, housing discrimination and school harassment based on sexual orientation (these numbers come from the HRC’s Maps of State Laws & Policies), we find, with the exception of Seattle and Cambridge, the majority don’t measure up.
For example, Utah, the state where Salt Lake City is located, has passed no major state-level gay rights laws. Florida (where both Orlando and Fort Lauderdale are located) has passed one: A hate crimes law based on sexual orientation. Cambridge and Seattle, however, are pretty gay when it comes to passing state-level gay rights laws (five with the latter and four with the former).
We also looked at The Advocate’s top five in terms of the number of LGBT elected city officials in each. Searching the Victory Fund’s database of LGBT officials, we found between one to two officials for most of The Advocate’s top five. While significant, they do not compare to cities with the most LGBT elected city officials, like Seattle, which has nine.
After looking at The Advocate’s top five cities in terms of their number of same-sex couples, state gay rights laws and locally elected politicians, we wanted to see what were the nation’s gayest cities (using the same criteria). We first looked at the cities with the most same-sex couples.
Gayest cities revised
In terms of sheer number, Los Angeles has the most same-sex couples per city in the U.S., followed by Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle (these numbers come from the Williams Institute). San Diego rounds out the top five.
If we look at the same five major state-level gay rights laws we looked at earlier (same-sex marriage, employment, hate crimes, housing and school harassment) we find four states that include all five: Iowa, Massachusetts, New York and Vermont (based on research from the Human Right’s Campaign). None of these states are on our top list of cities with the most same-sex couples.
Yet, all five of our cities are located in states that include at least four out of five of our major state-level gay rights laws: California, Illinois and Washington. The only law these states have yet to pass (in the case of California, without being revoked by voters) is a law legalizing same-sex marriage.
Next, we looked at major U.S. cities with the most locally elected LGBT officials (these numbers come from the Victory Fund). Of these cities, we found Chicago to have the most (11 officials), followed by Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. San Diego, again, round out the top five.
So what then are the gayest cities? Well, based on our own calculation, we used a similar point system to The Advocate’s top five.
But beyond our simple point system, these cities are also the gayest because they represent the cities with the highest number of same-sex couples, state gay rights laws and elected LGBT city officials.
It’s the least gay friendly cities that The Advocate labels as the gayest. According to our analysis, Salt Lake City has yet to earn its “queer cred” (which The Advocate says it earned based on having a “half a dozen hot spots”). When we look at its state legislative record on major gay rights (which is zero), the number of same-sex couples in its city (which ranks at 32 among U.S. cities) or LGBT elected officials (it has two, The Advocate reported one). Orlando and Fort Lauderdale fair a little better. They are in the twenties for same-sex couples, the state passed one gay rights law (a hate crimes law based on sexual orientation), and both have one LGBT elected city official – but are far from being the gayest.
Using the same measures, we came to a fairly different picture of the nation’s gayest cities. Los Angeles has more than 13,000 same-sex couples, compared to Salt Lake City’s 1,145. California is also a state that passed four out of five major gay rights legislation, compared to Utah (home of Salt Lake City), which has yet to pass any major state-level gay rights bills. Three California cities are near the top of my list of LGBT elected city officials (each holding between six and eight officials), compared again to Salt Lake City, which only has two.
The different conclusions reached by The Advocate and us have enormous implications for gay and lesbian residents and travelers. Which cities would you want to move to or spend your gay dollars at? A city with few same-sex couples, little LGBT representation in city government and little to no state-level protections for LGBT people? Or one that has the most same-sex couples, state-level gay rights laws and elected LGBT city officials?
What do you think? Join the discussion at LGBTWeekly.com.
For more information
On numbers of same-sex couples in U.S. cities – williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Census2010Snapshot-US-v2.pdf.
On state-level gay rights laws – hrc.org/resources/entry/maps-of-state-laws-policies.
On LGBT elected officials – victoryinstitute.org/out_officials/search.
• LGBT elected city officials
• WNBA teams
• International Mr. Leather competition semifinalists
• Imperial Court chapters
• Softball teams that competed in the Gay Softball World Series
• LGBT bookstores [like these exist anymore]
• Nude yoga
• Transgender protections
• Concerts by Gossip, the Cliks, and the Veronicas
The Advocate searched different U.S. cities with the above criteria and counted the number of each category in a city (three WNBA teams would receive three points, for example). They then added each cities total points and ranked the top 25 with the most, deeming them the gayest cities in the nation.
Besides being tongue in cheek, The Advocate’s numbers are also inaccurate. We did a simple fact check of their numbers and found numerous inaccuracies. In terms of LGBT elected city officials, The Advocate reported Seattle as having only two elected officials. It’s actually nine, including three city councilmembers: Joseph McDermott, Thomas Rasmussen, and Sally Clark. Similarly, The Advocate reported that Long Beach, Calif. has only one elected LGBT city official, but it’s actually three: USD Board of Education Board member David Barton, City Councilmember Robert Garcia, and City Councilmember Gerrie Schipske.
After tabulating the top five cities with the most same-sex couples, state gay rights laws and out elected city officials, we used a similar point system to The Advocate’s: For the top five cities with the most same-sex couples, we gave five points to the No. 1 city, four to the No. 2 city and three to city No. 3 etc.
With the high ranking states that have passed at least four gay rights laws (three states that represent all five of our top cities with the most same-sex couples), we gave four points to each. We then gave a point for each elected LGBT city official in each of our top five cities. Afterward, we added all the points. Chicago received the highest, followed by Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and San Diego.
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